“Everyone in there knows exactly what they’re doing. It’s like I’m the worst in the class.”
I had just stepped out of one of my first classes at the University and was standing in the midday drizzle chatting with a couple of other students. The last hour and 20 minutes had been a blur of information and of more experienced and informed hands shooting up around me, so hearing this from someone else was quite the relief.
As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones to feel that way. The more I asked people how their first few days of classes were going, the more I got versions of that same sentiment of people feeling like “the worst” in their classes. If you’re a first year, you’ve probably heard that a few times in the past couple weeks. Maybe you’ve even said or thought it yourself. I was surprised to find so many people who felt this way. It seemed disproportionate.
“You feel so lost compared to everyone else,” said Ananya Parthasarathy ’22.
This raises the question: if we’re all so lost, what is everyone else?
In those unfamiliar first few days, I also asked myself, “Are these impressions legitimate causes for concern, or mere frosh jitters? Should we drop those classes or stick them out?” Especially during drop/add, this was a rather relevant question, but it would be foolish of me to give a one-size-fits-all answer. Of course, it all depends on which class you’re taking, what your academic goals are, what grades you’re aiming for, and who you are as a person.
As the days went on, I did start to notice a general lull in the buzz of self-doubt and academic panic.
“I feel like it’ll get better with time, because I feel like once you get to know people you can talk more freely,” Parthasarathy said. “The longer you stay in a class, the more comfortable you feel.”
“Some people can listen to something and respond immediately,” said Mahey Gheis ’22. “But some people need more time to fully process what they’re going to say.”
Being thoughtful and reflective, and perhaps less participatory as a result, doesn’t make a student any less qualified. Feeling qualified shouldn’t necessarily be our priority.
“I think that being the best in a classroom really discourages learning,” said Magda Kisielinska ’22.
Confidence is comfortable, and coming out of high school, many of us had grown accustomed to it. No wonder we momentarily feel like “the worst” when we get here.
The notion that we should know what we’re doing when we walk into a classroom is in itself flawed, and detrimental to our education in the long run. What sets apart a liberal arts education from a more straightforward or traditional path is the space it allocates to experimentation. Four years from now, if I graduate having been comfortable in every class I took, how much will I have gained from college? Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny famously advised, “try to be the worst guy in whatever band you’re in,” advice that I think fits quite nicely in this situation.
I don’t mean to say that this is always possible. College works a little bit differently than a jazz band. All of us have grades to maintain and classes to pass, and some of us are working towards a triple major or graduating in three years. We can’t always afford to plunge head first into the depths of an unfamiliar subject.
But if you do have the luxury of taking a risky class, and the (dare I say) luxury of being in a class where you feel like the least experienced, I urge you to stick with it. As someone who has been through a whopping seven days of class, I realize I’m not exactly speaking from the pedestal of experience, but hear me out. Surround yourself with apparent experts. Bask in the discomfort. Worst case, you’ll have looked your insecurity in the face. That’s what we’re here for.
Elodie is a member of the Class of 2022 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.